On Friday night in Minnesota, barely heard above the choir of angels singing about how majestic the trio of Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey looked, were a few whispers of concern about Sixers forward Tobias Harris. Harris is a player who has looked to be on the verge of making an All-Star team the last two years but could never put it all together on a consistent basis.
On this night, when the team looked so impressive and dominant, Harris was invisible, posting a yawn-worthy six points, four assists, and three rebounds in 30 minutes of a blowout against a good team.
Perhaps it was a fluke, but no. In the next away game against New York Knicks Harris was eerily quiet again, this time with 12 points, two assists, and five boards in 35 minutes, but he scored eight points in the last four minutes, so only four points in his first 31 minutes. Is this going to be the new Tobias Harris?
Tobias Harris will figure things out with the Sixers
First things first, there is no point in dissecting Harris’ salary or discussing whether he is worth $35 million per year. He’s not, but he also isn’t going anywhere this season, and like it or not he is clearly the best power forward on this team, so he will continue to play large minutes.
The Sixers may add one more player in a buyout, but for the most part this is who they will ride or die with in the playoffs. Wishing he was a different player will do no one any good, so let’s stick with the positives of who he is, and what we know.
After two games of the Harden era, one thing has become abundantly clear: the Sixers will go as far as the three-headed monster of Embiid, Harden, and Maxey will take them. Maxey fills a role of quickness and explosion that no one else on the team possesses, so it makes sense that the team recognizes the importance of growing him into the team’s third star, or at least third main scorer.
Harris may not be the player the fans want at the four spot, but he is the consummate teammate and locker room glue guy. However, if someone has to take a step back and change their role in order for this team to move forward, it makes sense that it be Harris. He will sacrifice parts of his game for the greater good.
Harris is not without ego, but he is a guy who truly prioritizes winning above all else. He wants to be appreciated, but he wants to win more. Adding a ball-dominant superstar point guard changes a lot of things for the way the offense is run, how the ball moves, and who the plays are called for.
Adjustments have to be made, and since the new big three are all getting the ball and the play calls, it makes perfect sense that Harris would struggle a little bit adapting to a smaller role. It will take time for him to figure it out, and Sixer fans need to be patient with him while he does because he will continue to be a valuable part of the team.
Harris is literally going to be used in different ways now than he was earlier this season. He will be put in different places on the floor and asked to be more of a screener and defender. He is never going to be confused with Ben Simmons on D but he is a big, athletic, much improved defender and always gives one hundred and ten percent. During the last two games in which he has seemed to disappear he has actually sacrificed his own offense while doing the dirty work defending Karl-Anthony Towns and Julius Randle, a difficult task for anyone. Yes, he has missed some open shots but he is still finding the flow of this new offense. The shots will begin to drop as he gets more comfortable.
Doc Rivers has had James Harden for two practices, two games, and one walkthrough. There are twenty-two games left in this sprint to the playoffs and every single one of them will be an exercise in trying to take steps to improve for the playoffs. Everyone will adjust and figure out their new roles and Doc will have to figure out the best lineups and plays to get the most out of each player. Tobias will have more nights where he is quiet, but he will also have a few 25 point nights when he shines. Doc knows how important Harris is to this team as a 4th scorer and will find ways here and there to get him going.
Harris has averaged 18 points and seven rebounds per game this season. With the insertion of Matisse Thybulle into the starting lineup, a superior rebounder to Danny Green, and the addition of a good rebounding guard like Harden, there will be less boards to go around. This is a wonderful thing because rebounding has been a significant bugaboo for this team all year. Fans should start to expect numbers more like 14 points and six rebounds. And for the umpteenth time, stop mentioning how much money he makes. It’s not helping anyone and it will just make you crazy. We have our stars now, what we need from Harris is for him to become a star role player. Do the dirty work on defense, try to pick up a few more boards, run the floor hard, stay positive, and hopefully hit a few open threes.
The temptation will be to boo Harris at future Sixer games. He doesn’t deserve it. It’s not his fault that he makes so much money and let’s be honest, you would have taken the payday too. It’s also not his fault that he didn’t get traded. That might happen in the offseason but for now we can use whatever he can give. He is a popular, well liked leader in the locker room who works his tail off every day. When he misses a jumper he is more frustrated than you are, I guarantee it. He is a good player, he is simply not a $35 million dollar player. With Joel, James, and Tyrese all playing the role of “Star”, this team doesn’t need another big ego. They need a glue guy. By the time the playoffs get here Harris will be ready. And if they should happen to win some rings this year Harris will be a big part of the reason why. Be patient. Tobias Harris will come around.